Game Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  November 14, 2007

Records: Lakers 3-3; Rockets 6-2
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (8th); Rockets 107.2 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.4 (19th); Rockets 101.6 (5th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Chris Mihm (I guess, I have no idea what Phil will do at the five)
Rockets: Rafer Alston, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, Yao Ming

Lakers Notes: The Lakers two big weaknesses this season — turnovers and perimeter defense — bit them in a big way against the Spurs Tuesday night. The Spurs may be the best team in the league at exploiting a weakness (their balanced roster can do that a number of ways) and it showed.

As I said in the comments last night, this was the first game I didn’t get to watch. So I’m posting a couple of your comments from last night that seem to describe the happenings:

The problem is the defense collapses way too quickly. Even before Parker or Ginobli got to the free throw line, the Lakers double teamed leaving a wingman wide open for the 3. When will they learn not to double-team and rely on their center or weakside help. Kobe and Turiaf looked for the block in the paint and got burned on the perimeter. I posted several days ago, about Kobe’s “opportunistic defense.” Looks great, but doesn’t win. See Bowen’s 3 pt FGM vs. FGA.
—81 Witness

Kurt, you talked about tempo in your preview. I think another reason for so many turnovers was the Lakers rush to get the ball up the court and get a shot off. They will have to learn that there isn’t always a quick shot, and that defense leads to running (its pretty hard to run taking the ball out of the net all game). Lastly, why the hell do we send our pg’s under the screen when that ensures Tony Parker a wide-open 16-foot shot that has become a lay-up to him.
—Kwame a.

I could post a bunch more — there has been great stuff in the comments so far this season, a great discussion — but It’s time to not dwell on last night and move on to the not-so-simple issues ahead tonight.

The Rockets Coming In: The Rockets lost last night as well, having a lead midway through the third quarter and watching it disappear as Gasol and Darko beat the Rockets bigs and scored 46 points between them. Key Rockets off the bench — Bonzi Well, Mike James and Luis Scola — also all had the worst +/- numbers on the team.

As you would expect, the Rockets have been getting great offensive production out of their dynamic duo of Ming and McGrady. Ming is shooting 55.6% from the floor, scoring 25.2 points per 40 minutes, grabbing 15% of the rebounds while on the floor and has a PER of 27.45. McGrady has been carrying more of the offensive load (33.2% of the possessions when on the floor) and still is shooting 50.1% (eFG%) from the floor and 35.1% from three, with a PER of 28.29. (For comparison, Kobe leads the Lakers with a PER of 27.2).

But after those two the Rockets have not done much on offense. Rafter Alston is shooting 35.8% from the floor, Bonzi Wells 39%, Mike James 42.1% (all eFG%). Eventually that will catch up with them.

Fortunately for the Rockets (and unlike the Lakers), they can count on good defense to keep them in games every night. Teams are only shooting 45.7% against them (second best in the league) and the Rockets are one of the best rebounding teams in the league, so there aren’t many second chances.

Last Time These Two Met: The Rockets won 95-93 on the opening night of the season, but the Rockets dominated that game until the Lakers almost stole it with a late run (and they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Shane Battier and his late three).

That was the first game of the year and for the Lakers it was the Kobe show, with him taking 43% of the shots while he was on the floor. This was the “Chicken or Egg” problem game for the Lakers, nobody else was hitting so Kobe took it all on himself.

The Lakers depth, which has served them well this season didn’t do much in that game — all the Lakers starters were positive in the +/- that game, but the Rockets bench was better. Of course, Lamar Odom was not in the lineup for the Lakers for that game.

Also note, McGrady and Ming accounted for 55 of the Rockets 95 points that night. Mike James was the only other Rocket to shoot 50% that night.

Keys To The Game: Both teams are coming in on the second game of a back-to-back, and both are pretty deep, so no big advantage or disadvantage here.

Just like last night, the Rockets are a team that likes the game slowed down (89.6 possessions per game, 7 fewer than the Lakers) so if the Lakers can up the tempo it would be to their advantage — IF they don’t turn the ball over in transition so much. That’s a big IF.

The key for the Lakers is to hold on to the ball, then on defense make someone other than the Rockets big two beat you. Of course, while Wells and James may not be shooting well, if they get the wide-open looks from three San Antonio did they will hit them.

Tonight’s Game: Where ESPN’s Sideline Reporters Talk Nothing But Kobe Trade BS Happens: This is a game the Lakers can win — if they execute on defense and don’t turn the ball over. The Lakers have three big bodies to throw at Yao, and as for McGrady a combo of Odom and Kobe can limit how efficient he is. The key is for the perimeter rotations to be there tonight.

Also, Rob L. said in an email to me (along with the stats from last night) that he thinks tonight could be one of those “Kobe takes over” games. Personally I hope not, this is a tough team to do that against (Battier on Kobe with Yao and Mutumbo behind him). This is a game the Lakers team can win.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get the joy that is ESPN. What is the under/over on the number of times a reporter discusses the “Kobe trade” situation?